I make no secret that I am a big fan of Vice President Joe Biden. I tuned in yesterday for what I expected to be touching tribute to Joe and his half-century of public service. I expected President Obama to shower personal praise and celebrate one of the closest friendships ever between the two top executives in our country. I even expected some friendly banter and the famous Biden grin that everybody has grown to love. However, when President Obama called up the Marine officer carrying the Medal of Freedom to join them on stage, this event billed as a tribute to Biden took on a whole new meaning. It was truly an emotional moment for Biden and those of us who have always honored his service to our country.
Vice President Biden fought back tears and spoke for about 20 minutes after receiving the highest civilian honor in our country. Toward the end, he said that it is “well beyond” what he deserved. I expect there are his foes out there who might agree citing his embarrassing exit from 1988 presidential race over plagiarism. As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he presided over two of the most contentious Supreme Court Confirmations in history and many Republicans blame him for setting in motion the environment of dysfunction around the Supreme Court today. Biden’s loose lips and witty humor have gotten him in trouble more than once, including racially insensitive remarks. All of that said, Biden is wrong when he says he doesn’t deserve the Medal of Freedom, because perfection and infallibility are not requisite to this honor.
Joe Biden has spent almost his entire professional life in elected public office. Honoring him for this service could not be more important in a time when cynicism toward politics and politicians may be at the highest levels in our history. President Obama in his farewell address last week in Chicago challenged people who want to see change to “grab a clipboard” and run for office. Joe Biden first did this in 1969 when he ran for the New Castle County Council and then numerous times thereafter including seven campaigns for U.S. Senate and two Presidential bids. During Joe Biden’s career, he developed an incredible respect for the institution of the U.S. Senate and worked within the deliberative body to pass the Violence Against Women Act. He served as Chair of the Senate Judiciary committed and led the fight to defeat the nomination of Robert Bork. If Bork had been confirmed, it is likely that reproductive rights gained under Roe vs. Wade would have been overturned by now.
This honor extends beyond Biden and his incredible service. I have friends that insist that people who run for and hold political office are nothing but greedy, narcissistic and self-centered people who are addicted to power. While there are a few bad apples that feed this reputation, I refuse to believe that the majority of these people who step up to serve fit this description. Whether I agree with their ideology or not, the vast majority of our elected officials have my respect for putting themselves into the spotlight because of what they believe is in the best interest of America. Joe Biden could not be a better example of this. He is imperfect but demonstrates humility over his shortcomings. He entered politics a very young age when he could have built up his personal wealth in a law career, but he is one of the least wealthy Washington politicians due to his choice to serve. In one week he will be an ordinary citizen for the first time in 47 years, but has no plans to stop working on the issues important to him including the Cancer Moon Shot.
I’ve worked on campaigns and seen first hand the sacrifices that candidates and officeholders make. I’ve seen the strains that it puts on families and witnessed tempers boiling over among people who are truly friends within campaigns. I’ve celebrated a campaign team’s contributions to victory and lived through the disappointment with those that worked their heart out, but still came up short on election day. Don’t tell me that these people are selfish or only serving their own interests, because the victory or defeat weighs on the shoulders of the candidate who intends to deliver for those gave their time, talent and treasure toward a vision for the future.
Joe Biden, if your humility makes wearing the Medal of Freedom an honor that you don’t deserve, then wear it for the people heeding the call of President Obama to “grab a clipboard” and collect signatures one by one to get on the ballot in their school district, town, county or state. You have set an example with a lifetime of public service through elected office and have made personal sacrifices that most people simply do not appreciate. Your expressive love of the institutions that make up the greatest democratic government the world has ever seen speak volumes at a time when many Americans allow themselves to see only corruption and dysfunction. This Medal of Freedom does not only honor your personal contributions over the last half century, but the values and optimistic vision of America’s future that you will continue to show all of us throughout the rest of your life. Thank you for everything, Joe.